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Cut

nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
May 19, 2011

Danno’s always saying it’s like Our Town but in the Ladies of Malibu everyone’s rich and we narrate their lives.

I don’t know what Our Town is.

So says Colette, part of the three-person reality TV editing team for “Ladies of Malibu”—a shameless rip-off of the Real Housewives franchise mixed with Jersey Shore’s unabashed trashiness—that makes up the cast of Crystal Skillman’s Cut, and, really, the rest of this review will be only an attempt to explain at great length all the theatrical goodness packed into those two sentences: sharp observations, well-limned characters, a thoughtful examination of the place reality television holds in American culture and the way it fits into a larger media culture that makes a fun house mirror of all of our lives, forcing us to “edit” our own stories for consumption even as we live them.

The crew—the story editor, Danno, who actually assembles the episodes; the logger, Colette, who tracks and labels all of the thousands of hours of raw footage from which their episode is drawn; and the planner, Rene, who visualizes the story arcs that can be drawn from the material—is responsible for the season finale of “Ladies of Malibu.” Danno came to L.A. to be an actor, Rene used to be a playwright and a novelist, and Colette wanted to open a dance studio. But what they do now is sort through filmed moments in other people’s semi-fictional lives, looking for a story arc. Unfortunately, their first cut of the finale got rejected by the management, and they’re now on a tight deadline: in three hours, their new edit needs to be in front of a meeting, and if isn’t better than the first, they’ll all get fired unceremoniously.

And while the finale—centered around the hot-tub sexual encounter of one of the “ladies” and a simultaneous phone call from her husband—really needs their entire focus right now, each is also having a high-stakes personal crisis, which isn’t making it any easier for them to work together, or to simply get through the day. Looking at their bulletin board full of neon Post-Its (the centerpiece of Kyle Dixon’s eye-catching, brightly colored set) tracing the bar fights, sex acts, break-ups, and other bits of bad behavior captured on camera, Rene has an epiphany. But will they have time to make it work?

Switching back and forth between the tension-filled present day and flashbacks over the course of the short but intense period the three have been working together, and between soliloquies mimicking the “talking heads” confessionals central to the reality genre and more traditional theatrical scenes, Cut works beautifully on two levels. First, it’s a crisp and funny workplace drama that takes us deep into a world we see one side of from our living room couches, but which behind the scenes has hidden crises, conflicts, and complexities of its own. And second, it’s an intriguing, poignant, and sometimes melancholy meditation on storytelling—how we construct the narratives that make up both our art and our lives.

Additionally, though, it works on a kind of intriguing meta-level. On one hand, it does seem a little too pat that the denouements of major crises in Danno’s family, Rene’s marriage, and Colette’s relationship should all come on the same day, concurrent with this major crisis in their professional life. On the other hand, as Danno frequently says, “Cutting is choosing,” and the “edit” that makes up the play has the same freedom to deploy its elements for maximum effectivity as does the reality TV edit, whether or not that aligns perfectly with the un-narrated reality we ordinarily inhabit—as we see through the choices made to come up with the final “Ladies of Malibu” edit.

It’s also a extremely well-conceived and well-executed production—a really terrific collaboration between Skillman and The Management, who commissioned the play (based on an earlier short of Skillman’s) just a few months ago. Smartly designed to maximize the intimate playing space—which I’ve seen feel claustrophobically tiny on other occasions—and directed by Meg Sturiano with crackling energy, the piece builds with kinetic excitement through both writing and performance. All three actors (Nicole Beerman as Rene, Megan Hill as Colette, and Joe Varca as Danno) are wonderful, especially in the monologues.

“I believe God is a shitty producer. He doesn’t know how to cut anything right,” Colette says, toward the end of Cut. It may be blasphemy to say so, but if Colette has it right and God is a shitty producer, then Skillman and Sturiano are clearly very good ones. Cut is a smart, crisp, and exciting piece of theatrical craft.